By David Stillman Meyer | June 9, 2018 | Food & Drink
The most famous snack in the west turns 21.
After a summit, a long ride and/or an even longer night on the town, one is no doubt looking to indulge, and nothing spells indulgence quite so beautifully as that cone of caloric bliss, the Ajax truffle fries at Ajax Tavern ($17, 685 E. Durant Ave. at the base of Aspen Mountain). Perhaps it’s their pour la table DNA or the way the truffle oil lingers in the air that so many people associate the dish with fond Aspen memories surrounded by friends and family, but like it or not, order it or not, one steps off the mountain and into the truffle fry.
The mid-’90s marked a transitional period in American culinary history: not quite evolved from the lobster-and-caviar of the ’80s and just beginning to catch on to the farm-to-table and “foodie” revolution. The truffle remained a rarefied affair, until it seemed overnight it was showing up everywhere—on pizza, on pasta and, of course, on fries—and all thanks to 2,4-dithiapentane, a newly invented compound that tastes and smells something akin to the real McCoy.
The synthetic concoction remains controversial, but what is certain is that truffles—be they shaved or drizzled—had entered the culinary zeitgeist in a big way by the late ’90s, when a prominent Aspen couple had a fateful meal in France.
“They had pommes frites with a soft melted cheese and shaved truffles,” recounts Greg Topper (then Ajax Tavern’s executive sous chef). “They said it was the best thing they had ever had, so Tobias Lawry [the chef] and I played around and drizzled truffle oil on some crispy fries, tossed them with Parmesan and parsley, put them in a cone, and the rest is history.”
Even as truffle oil has fallen from grace, Ajax truffle fries have remained a staple—so popular, in fact, there is a position in the kitchen known as “the fry guy,” who deals almost exclusively with potato prep (which come in crates from Idaho, never frozen). When current chef Matthew Zubrod took over in May 2016, he decided to do some tweaking.
“First, we upgraded to Blis Truffle Oil.” Blis is a nonsynthetic oil flavored with natural Alba white truffle essence. “We also added truffle salt and switched to Grana Padano,” a less crumbly cousin to Parmigiano Reggiano.
Anthony Bourdain once said, “Let it be stated here, unto forever and eternity, truffle oil is not food.” Maybe it’s not, but it sure makes food taste good. And for the purists, a supplement of shaved white truffles is available over Christmas ($10 per gram, 3-gram minimum).
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE LITTLE NELL; PATIO AT DUSK PHOTO BY SCOTT CLARK; FRIES PHOTO BY JAMES + SCHULZE